ISLAMABAD: Amid reports of many Christian families fleeing the town near the federal capital in fear of a backlash, President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday sought a detailed report on the arrest of an 11-year-old Christian girl on blasphemy charges.
Rifta Masih – who suffers from Down’s Syndrome – was jailed by the police in Meharabadi village, near Islamabad, on Saturday after being severely beaten up by locals, for allegedly burning 10 pages of the Noorani Qaida.
After the issue was highlighted in the media, Islamabad police registered a case against the imam of the local mosque of Meharabad area near G-11 sector for instigating locals to set the minor girl on fire.
“Investigation is under way and the authenticity of the incident, age of the girl and her motive are yet to be determined,” said the station house officer (SHO) of the Qasim Niazi police station. Instead of trying to contain the situation and allaying tensions in the area through deployment of police, the SHO simply asked the Christian community of the area to run for their lives.
The official revealed that a new FIR has been registered against the cleric and 175 others who he claimed have approached the police with a demand to hand over the Christian girl so she could be set on fire publicly at the main chowk of the area.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Harmony Dr Paul Bhatti told The Express Tribune that Rifta would be medically examined. Bhatti said that he has also taken up the issue with religious scholars of different sects, who, after Eidul Fitr, will determine whether Rifta’s act was deliberate or unintentional, since she is only a child.
A cleric, who talked on phone on the condition of anonymity, gave The Express Tribune his version of the incident. According to him, he was teaching Quran to students in the mosque when he heard noises of neighbours beating someone. When he approached the scene, he was told that the girl, who he himself admitted was a minor, had taken away a copy of the holy book from a neighbour’s house and set it on fire.
The cleric vowed to defend “Islam in this world and the next” and claimed that after witnessing the incident he, along with some other locals, approached the police for registration of a case against the girl.
He said when the police remained reluctant to register the case, locals were forced to stage a protest. While the cleric claimed that it was he who approached the police for legal action, the police said that they saved the girl and her family through a timely intervention or the mob led by this cleric would have burnt the girl alive.
SHO Niazi said that if a timely operation was not conducted, locals could have burnt the Christians of the area. Others said that instead of denying the allegations, the Christian population fled the area. Abdur Rehman, 24, who also lives in the area, said that he wanted to kill the girl but police escorted her along with the family.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Human Rights Cell has expressed concern over the detention of the juvenile Christian girl. The Human Rights Cell proposed that in any such event, law must allow leadership of religious communities and district administration to jointly probe the matter before the registration of a complaint and arrest.
According to the Centre for Law and Justice, at least 200 to 300 Christian families from Meharabadi Jaffar, Sector G-12, Islamabad, have fled after Rifta was accused of blasphemy.
The organisation said that the government has failed to provide security to these Christian families who fled their houses after clerics pledged to attack Christians and evict them from the neighbourhood.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2012.